May

School of Nursing instructors Presly Lowry, center, and Rachel Gambill, right, prepare Bower scholars for the start of their MSN studies at UMMC.
School of Nursing instructors Presly Lowry, center, and Rachel Gambill, right, prepare Bower scholars for the start of their MSN studies at UMMC.
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‘Life-changing’ MSN courses begin May 31 for UMMC Bower scholars

Published on Monday, May 23, 2022

By: Annie Oeth, aoeth@umc.edu

Victoria Seals of Summit had been the only nurse at the Mississippi Department of Health clinic serving Amite and Wilkinson counties. Soon she’ll be taking the first step toward becoming a community college educator so she can train more nurses to serve the state.

Seals is among 23 incoming students at the University of Mississippi Medical Center whose graduate education is funded by a grant from the Bower Foundation. The first group of Bower scholars attended orientation Tuesday and Wednesday. They will start classes May 31.

Victoria Seals
Seals

“I’ve been out of school for 11 years,” Seals said. “That’s enough time to be nervous and excited about going back to class.”

In 2021, the Bower Foundation announced a $3.8 million Building a Strong Future for Nursing in Mississippi grant to create critically needed health care administrators and community college nursing educators by providing graduate education for 64 registered nurses through the RN-to-MSN program at UMMC. A second cohort of Bower scholars will begin studies in 2023.

In this 2021 photo, Anne Travis, CEO of the Bower Foundation, is announcing the grant for Building a Strong Future for Nursing in Mississippi.
In this 2021 photo, Anne Travis, CEO of the Bower Foundation, is announcing the grant for Building a Strong Future for Nursing in Mississippi.

“Providing this graduate-level training will be life-changing at a personal level but will also have a huge impact at the community and state levels,” said Rebecca Cockrell, Bower Foundation program director for health care workforce.

Seals’ instructors at Southwest Mississippi Community College asked her if she’d be interested in returning as a nursing educator, but she didn’t have her Master of Science in Nursing yet.

“When Southwest reached out about this opportunity and asked if I was interested in applying, I said, ‘Of course!”

Tina Ferrell
Ferrell

The first group of Bower scholars hail from throughout the state, as far north as Hernando and Olive Branch, south to Laurel, Hattiesburg and the Gulf Coast and points in between. The scholarship recipients are boosting enrollment to 70 in the two-year RN-to-MSN program, said Dr. Tina Ferrell, assistant professor of nursing and director of the RN-to-MSN program.

“I take so much pride in the fact that we have graduates all over the state,” she told Bower scholars during orientation.

On Wednesday, graduates of UMMC’s MSN program talked with students about the difference it made in their careers.

Gordon Gartrell
Gartrell

Gordon Gartrell, nurse manager of the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s of Mississippi, said earning his MSN allowed him to grow as a health care professional. “It gave me the tools to lead the PICU, and I’m continuing in the nursing PhD program. I am finishing my coursework this month.”

Nursing instructor Presly Lowry gave Bower scholars an idea of what to expect in the MSN program. “Go into your studies with the mindset that it will be difficult for a little while, but that’s temporary.”

Dr. Julie Sanford, dean of the School of Nursing, said the program launched as Mississippi and the rest of the U.S.  are experiencing a shortage of nurses and nursing educators.

In 2021, more than 91,000 applications from qualified applicants were not accepted in nursing programs because of a lack of faculty as well as insufficient classroom space, clinical sites and preceptors and budget constraints, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects more than 175,000 openings for RNs each year through 2029.

Julie Sanford
Sanford

“This investment in nursing education will result in more nurses in the state,” she said. “The Bower Foundation grant will be transformational for the state and for the Bower scholars.”

Anne Travis, Bower Foundation CEO, said nurses are essential to health care in the state. “We have talented and capable Mississippians who, with more education and training, can become nurse leaders. Building up this health care work force across our state will benefit the economy and health outcomes.”